John Fetterman, Mitch McConnell return to Senate; Not Dianne Feinstein

US Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) waves to reporters as he arrives at the US Capitol April 17, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Sen. John Fetterman both returned to the Capitol Monday after significant medical absences, leaving only one senator, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, away with no set return date.

McConnell, 81, suffered a concussion and a fractured rib in a March 8 fall at a Washington hotel. After several days in the hospital, the Kentucky Republican was transferred to a rehab facility.

“Suffice it to say, this isn’t the first time stubbornness has served me very well,” McConnell quipped Monday during his first Senate testimony since the fall. “Needless to say I’m very happy to be back.”

Fetterman, a 53-year-old from Pennsylvania, resigned from the Senate in February to be admitted to Water Reed Army Medical Center for clinical depression. He was discharged from the hospital at the end of March.

“I want everyone to know that depression is treatable and the treatment works,” Fetterman said in a statement after returning home from the hospital. “This is not about politics – right now there are people suffering from depression in red and blue districts. If you need help, please get help.”

The return of both Fetterman and McConnell this week after the Senate Easter recess has served to highlight the one senator who has not returned from his prolonged medical absence: California lawmaker Feinstein, an 89-year-old who last left the Senate early chose February. With the Democratic faction enjoying a 51-49 majority in the chamber and little advantage in its committees, absences can stifle the progress of bills and nominations.

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In March, Feinstein announced she had been hospitalized for shingles and said she hoped to return to Washington soon. However, there is still no fixed date for the senator’s return.

The new doubts about Feinstein’s health come on top of longstanding questions about her mental acuity. This combination has sparked initial private and now increasingly public calls for Feinstein to step down before the end of her current term in 2025.

But the senator refused the pressure and dug in. In a statement last week, she said: “I intend to return as soon as possible once my medical team say I am safe to travel. In the meantime, I remain committed to the job and will continue to work from home in San Francisco.”

Feinstein made a concession and agreed to let Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer ask the Senate to approve his request to have someone temporarily fill her seat on the Judiciary Committee. The panel is voting on whether to push President Joe Biden’s justice nominees.

But to fill that seat, Schumer needs either the unanimous approval of senators to avoid a vote, or ten Republicans voting with Democrats to break a filibuster.

Several Republican senators had already announced on Monday that they would not give a unanimous green light to a replacement. The odds of 10 Republicans crossing party lines to help the Democrats also looked bleak.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Schumer said he was still optimistic Republicans would help him fill Feinstein’s committee seat and that he intended to vote on it this week. However, he declined to speculate on when Feinstein might return to the Senate.

“I spoke to Senator Feinstein just a few days ago. She believes that she will return soon. She’s really hoping for that, and so am I,” Schumer said.

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